legislative session

Face the Facts: What Could be Addressed in the Next Legislative Session

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Will we get no-excuse absentee voting or police body cameras in all towns in Connecticut? What about paying for upgrades to HVAC systems in your son or daughter's school?

All of these things could be up for debate in the next legislative session, which is just days away.

And that's just part of the list leaders from dozens of small towns would like to see on the agenda when the session starts.

NBC Connecticut's Mike Hydeck spoke with Joe Delong, director and CEO of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, about what concerns he's bringing to the table.

Mike: "So to save money for cities and towns across Connecticut, regional services have long been a debate. What would your membership like to see happen moving forward on something like this?"

DeLong: "Well, I think the one thing they would like is to just see some barriers for sharing services removed. Right now, one of the greatest challenges we have with sharing services is because we have collective bargaining in the state, which our municipal leaders aren't suggesting we get rid of, but a lot of times when you try to combine a service, and you work that out through collective bargaining, you end up having to bargain with three or four or five different bargaining units over the exact same service. And what ends up happening in many of those cases, it doesn't become a municipal vs. labor union fight, it becomes a labor union vs. labor union fight that the unions don't bargain, necessarily from the same position. So one of the things that we've been advocating that actually made it out of the House of Representatives last year, but didn't pass the Senate, was if you're going to try to do a service-sharing initiative across communities or across different entities, that a single bargaining unit is assigned to represent the interests of everybody who's involved. So, you know, essentially, the municipal governments need to bargain as a coalition with one position. And the workers need to bargain as a coalition with one position in order to get these things done. And right now, that's just not happening. So we're hoping that the General Assembly will finally take some action for that very important issue."

Mike: "For people watching who are not understanding this as much - let's talk about a case in point. Are we talking about DPW workers being able to go across town lines? Are we talking to emergency services? When you try to share those kinds of services between municipalities, which ones would you talking about? And why would it be difficult?"

DeLong: "Well, you know, here's how simple that it actually can be when you run into problems. The city of Hartford, years ago, not this combining services with neighboring towns, but actually within the city, went to combine its IT departments from the Board of Education and the General Government on the city side. And everybody was supportive of that and thought it was the best idea and it was going to create a better service, it was going to save money for Hartford taxpayers. But unfortunately, what they ran into was that you had different bargaining units, bargaining units who were with the Board of Ed bargaining units who were with the General Government, the city government, and the bargaining units couldn't agree on their position, they couldn't get along. So that entire merger that, you know, struggled to ever fully take place. So if we can't even do it within a town because of these types of conflicts, then that should give you some idea of how much more difficult it can be to do it outside of a community within, you know, multiple communities."

Mike: "Alright, so let's talk about something that was a big issue in the beginning of the pandemic, still is an issue now - trying to upgrade HVAC in schools. It's a big deal, because schools are allowed a lot of money each year from the state. And sometimes they choose not to do the upgrades to HVAC, that's the state's position. Like look, we give you money, you should spend it where it needs to be spent. But now, there's an argument on saying, look, let's do this differently. Can the state fund or get a fund together for HVAC? Is that how you'd like to see it, your membership?"

DeLong: "Yeah, well, I think what's important to point out is there are state programs that recognize that there is an end of life for a roof on a building. And so the state plays a role in funding a roof replacement. There are state programs that recognize that there is an end of life for windows. And so as windows hit a certain age limit, the state will help fund the replacement of those windows. But the way that the state program is currently written, it doesn't recognize that there's ever an end of life on an air quality system. So while they'll partner in replacing a roof and they'll partner in replacing a window, they say, 'hey, we're not going to partner in replacing air quality systems because if they went bad, it's because you didn't do the proper maintenance on them.' Without using the town, without there being a recognition that, you know, you could do the proper maintenance on them, that things do have an end of life. So what we've been working with the state on is to try to get them to recognize much the same way they do with roofs, in much the same way they do with windows, that there is an end of life for HVAC systems and we all should be working together to replace those systems when they're no longer functioning."

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